Pickled Cherries with Five-Spice Blend

pickled cherries recipe
Cherries, like most fruits, are best eaten right out of hand. There’s no doubt about that. The next best thing to fresh cherries, as I have recently discovered, would be pickled cherries. I used to reserve that runner-up spot for cherry jam and brandy-preserved cherries. That is no longer the case.

So if you, like me, always find yourself buying more fresh cherries than you can eat in a few days, try pickling them.

In the book, Live to Cook, Michael Symon has included a recipe for refrigerator pickled cherries. Fresh cherries aren’t boiled to death; instead, they simply enjoy a warm, syrupy bath of crimson pickling liquid which has been infused with assorted spices. The cherries are then kept refrigerated, allowing them to stay cool, fresh, firm, and juicy. The result is sweet and tart cherries with the fragrance and flavor of warm, autumnal spices permeating every part of their beings.

pickling recipe
I have experimented with different spices and found the five-spice mix to be the best. For this most recent batch, I added a few dried bay leaves (which is not part of the five-spice blend) to the mix and they made that which was already excellent even better. Feel free to use whichever spice blend you like.

According to the recipe, you’re supposed to bring the pickling liquid to a boil, then simmer it for 10 minutes. That was exactly what I did for my first two batches. However, I have found that thicker, more syrupy pickling liquid produces pickled cherries that retain their texture and color better, and are more intense in flavor, not to mention less wrinkly towards the end of their shelf lives. This has led me to reduce the liquid down to approximately 1/3 of its original volume before pouring it over the cherries.

Also, the recipe says the cherries are supposed to be fully submerged. However, I’ve found that even though the amount of the thicker pickling liquid, done my way, is too small to cover all of the cherries, not only does this not jeopardize the quality of the end product, it also enhances it. And if you wonder how you can pickle something without fully submerging it in pickling liquid, be assured that upon standing the salt in the liquid will draw out the natural juices from the cherries and within a few hours you will see more liquid in the jar than you initially put in it and your cherries will be fully submerged eventually.

pickled cherries recipe
The last tweak is that I use my homemade cherry vinegar in the pickling liquid. The original recipe calls for red wine vinegar which works beautifully. I just wanted to go all cherry all the way.

How do I love use these pickled cherries? Let me count the ways.


  • Serve them with a platter of assorted cheeses.
  • Halve and pit them and use them in muffins, quick breads, cakes, etc.
  • Chop them up and put them in drop cookies.
  • Mix them into a salad of fresh greens and shaved Parmesan or Fontina cheese.
  • Legally Erin makes pickled cherry muffins.
  • I’m sure there are several other uses which I have not explored. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

    Pickled Cherries with Five-Spice Blend
    Adapted from Pickled Cherries by Michael Symon‘s Live to Cook
    Makes 2 quarts
    Printable Version

    pickle recipe
    2 lbs sweet or sour cherries, stems and pits intact
    3 cups (24 fl. oz.) cherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
    1 cup sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoons salt
    1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
    3 cinnamon sticks
    3 bay leaves
    3 pieces of star anise
    2 teaspoons whole cloves
    1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

  • With a small fork or a toothpick, puncture each cherry 5-6 times to allow the pickling juice to penetrate the fruit. Place the cherries into a glass jar.
  • In a medium pot, mix together the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to 1/3 of its original volume. Remove the pot from heat and let the pickling liquid cool down for 10 minutes.
  • Pour the liquid over the cherries in the jar. If the cherries are not fully submerged, that’s okay. In a few hours, they will release more juice into the pickling liquid. Let the cherries cool down completely before closing the lid.
  • Keep the pickled cherries in the seal jar in the refrigerator. To prolong the life of the pickled cherries, use a clean spoon every time you dig into the cherry jar. The pickled cherries, refrigerated, will keep up to one month. Keep in mind that the longer they keep, the more wrinkly and the more pale they will become.
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